Philosophical Investigations

EXTRACT 2 Kant's enquiring murderer

Kant's reasoning takes him to some very strange places, however - places where we might not wish to follow. For example, in his short essay On a Supposed Right to Lie Because of Philanthropic Concerns Kant seems to draw up a case where obedience to the moral law and the good of others do not coincide. What is so interesting about this piece is that Kant deliberately takes as his position the most drastic and caricatured example possible to argue his point.

The situation in a nutshell is this: you are cornered outside of your house by a bloodthirsty madman who is looking for your friend. You know that this friend is inside of your house. The madman tells you in no uncertain terms that he will kill this person as soon as he finds him, and demands to know his whereabouts. For some reason or other, you do not have the ability to remain silent but must answer this villain with truth or falsehood. Is a lie in this case morally permissible? (On A Supposed Right to Lie 611).

Kant's answer, of course, is that not even this horrific circumstance would validate a deliberate falsehood; lying is a priori wrong because it is not an action that can be universally enacted according to the moral law, representing a contradiction in nature. For a further essay on this click on the link below.